How did Austin FC go from second worst in the West to conference title contender?

When the question is posed, you can begin to see amusement creeping across his face Austin FC head coach Josh Wolff. Austin FC is only a few steps away from the opening day of the season with FC Cincinnati and a local reporter noted that Las Vegas bettors had given the capital club Texan – 12th at the Western Conference in 2021 – a 75-1 draw to win the MLS Cup.

“I think there is an opportunity there for betting fans to make money,” said Wolff with a wry smile. “The odds are piling up against us… it’s a great opportunity.”

Five months later, Wolff’s betting tip looks promising. Despite losing 4-3 at home first New York Red Bulls On Sunday to go on a seven-game unbeaten streak, Austin was second in the West with 41 points, having surpassed last year’s win total (12 to nine) and tied with the best road record in the league. with seven wins and two draws. from 12 games. Quite a lot of people in MLS was surprised by what Verde did it this year, and you get the feeling that Wolff wants to keep it that way.

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“That odds were probably right based on our performance, but in that first year there were a lot of good things,” Wolff told ESPN. “In any year, you have to reflect and build on it. I think we did from an HR standpoint and I think all of that contributed to a good start.”

The path to a surprise Supporter’s Shield candidacy can be traced back to last summer’s signing Sebastian Driussi. Entering the dressing room is a Designated Player developed by Argentine giants River Plate and who has been going strong for a long time Champions League on the Zenit St.Petersburg side. Driussi delivers quality and swagger.

“I think there’s some credibility there that’s just instantaneous,” Wolff said. “I’m also a player in this league, and players are looking. They’re watching every moment when he first arrived here. You can clearly see that this is no ordinary DP. It’s not just quality – it’s intensity, professionalism, responsibility and willingness to work.”

Austin FC actually lost 8/9 games last August and September after Driussi’s debut, but 4 wins in the last 9 gives hope that things can get better in 2022.

“You can never get used to losing,” says Wolff. “Last year was tough, but it helped shape the way we go into this season, tactically, some tweaks, staffing, character and qualities that we need to add this year. “

Almost every notable addition brought in by General Manager Claudio Reyna has made a positive impact. In front of Maxi Urruti only 16 goals in the period 2019-21 with CF Montreal and Houston Dynamobut he’s had seven with Austin, with five of those serving as match winners.

“[Urruti] is a perfect fit for a team like Austin,” an opposing GM told ESPN this week. They don’t need him to get involved and become an elite opportunist. They just need him to come on and do a lot of hard work and complete some chances. “

The other newcomers are central defenders Ruben Gabrielsenwho has started 20 of the team’s 22 games in 2022 and is an experienced midfielder for MLS Ethan Finlay (five tables) and Felipe for depth.

“They clearly have the backing of ownership to take advantage of all the different sources of money to build an effective squad, with U22s, DPs, young players,” rival GM said. . “They did a great job building a well-balanced squad.”

There are also obstacles to overcome. DP midfielder Tomas Pochettino is struggling in 2021 and has been loaned to River Plate this season. Another DP, attacker Cecilio Dominguez, played only four games this season before suspended by MLS on April 8. Dominguez then recovered by leaguebut never played another minute for Austin FC and The player and the club agree to part ways earlier this week.

Instead of being ignored by those absences, Verde has become one of the hardest teams to beat. Driussi is leading the league in goalscoring goals with 13, while Austin leads the MLS in both goals scored (45) and assists (51). No team in the league has more points from lost positions than the Oaks (16).

“I think we have some way to hurt the teams,” said Wolff. “We can do it with quick attacks, we can press high and win the ball. We can have our build method, but if you want to sit low, I think we got it. clear on how to handle that. .

“Inside the dressing room, it’s very strong. The players are very dedicated to each other.

Perhaps the most important factor in Austin FC’s success is the improvement of the players. Hailed in MLS circles as a powerful talent developer, Wolff works with players, such as central defenders. Julio Cascante and second-year midfielder Dani Pereira, has been critical. Cascante has become more adept at using his feet and advancing attacks; Pereira has become a fan favorite for harassing opponents in midfield, helping to initiate counter attacks and score occasionally.

“I think winning becomes a byproduct of how well I can teach,” says Wolff. “It’s a process, it’s the way we want to play and certainly the environment that we want to build.”

As disadvantageous as he is to personal accolades – “Those things will never matter to me” – Wolff is poised to make the very short list of Coach of the Year contenders if Austin continued his victory through the fall.

A year out from the #WolffOut local trends on social media, the sophomore coach guided Austin FC to the uppers of the Western Conference this season thanks to an MVP candidate in Driussi, contributions Impact from winter signings, improved roster and a team spirit whose capital city Texas is dreaming of a first professional championship.

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